WEEKLY CAR DIARY – SUPERCHARGED BIG CAT & GENEROUS PRESTON

Some familiar vehicles delivered this week plus a star car on Friday. Why a star car? Because I had not driven this top of the range, petrol powered version of the F-Pace before and I suspect it’s really quite rare on UK roads:-

Monday: Bentley Flying Spur W12 (2007), Nottingham to Syston, Leicestershire; Audi A1 Sport 1.4 TFSI (125hp), Syston to here, there and everywhere (and back).

Tuesday: Ford Transit Custom, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire to Croydon, Surrey via …. Worcester(!). Long story.

Wednesday: Audi A6 Black Edition 2.0TDI (190hp) auto, Leicester to Barnsley, South Yorkshire.

Friday: Jaguar F-Pace S 3.0 V6 supercharged (petrol) auto, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire to Preston, Lancashire.

It was off to the frozen north again on Friday amid more forecasts of freezing temperatures and heaps of snow. So, I dressed appropriately (a woollen tie rather than a silk one). In the end, I saw nothing but blue skies and clear roads as the supercharged Big Cat whisked me to a little town just north of Preston. I had never been to Preston before so what did I know about the place? I pondered this while sitting in the leather-clad and calm interior of the F-Pace and made a mental list:-

– Preston is in the county of Lancashire in the north west of England (knowing this came in useful when delivering the F-Pace).
– It has a football team (that’s soccer for any American friends) called Preston North End which is very old.
– It is home to the National Football Museum.
– The town shares its name with the arch villain (Preston, a robotic cyber-dog) in Wallace and Gromit’s A Close Shave.

So, not a very long list and I even got one of these things wrong – the National Football Museum moved to Manchester in 2010. But travel is an education so what did I learn about Preston on my travels? The couple to whom I delivered the F-Pace very kindly drove me into the town in their rather nice new toy. So I asked them: “What should people know about Preston?” They told me two things about the town. Firstly, it doesn’t have a lot going for it (very honest of them). Secondly, the first ever guild in the country was founded here. The Preston Guild controlled the right to trade in the town and the right to establish the Guild was granted in 1179 by none other than Henry II. You may remember him from an earlier post – he’s the bloke who imprisoned his missus at Old Sarum. What some people will do for a bit of peace and quiet.

Walking down Preston’s main street to the train station, I saw that their first point about the town may have been fair. Nothing offensive, mind you. Not like Croydon where I went on Wednesday. Horrible place. In the highly unlikely scenario that you are planning a day out and your options boil down to Preston or Croydon, take my advice and head for Lancashire. In the equally highly unlikely scenario that a Croydonite is reading this – my apologies.

Preston railway station is a traditional, pleasant-to-behold, Victorian affair where steam trains and young ladies waving tear-soaked hankies at their departing, uniformed sweethearts would not look out of place. Here I learnt something about Preston for myself and it is related to those uniformed sweethearts. Large lettering and brass plaques on the waiting room walls inform the waiting traveller that that very room was given over to a free buffet for servicemen during the First World War. Three and a quarter million soldiers and sailors passing through Preston station benefited from free refreshments “and comforts” in the buffet which opened around the clock between August 1915 and May 1919. Three and a quarter million. That’s a lot of tea and black pudding sandwiches. Ee, thems is reet generous, them northern folk.

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And what of the F-Pace? Lovely. And with the supercharged engine, it felt a bit different. Quiet when cruising, a bit of a drone when accelerating gently and a distinctive howl when pressing on a bit more briskly. With 380 supercharged horses under bonnet, the F-Pace is obviously quick (0-60mph in 5.5 seconds) but a laid back driver may prefer the the less dramatic shove of the 3 litre V6 diesel where fewer revs are needed for the car to get up and go. I tend to divide SUVs into two categories: the squashy ones (very cosseting but very wobbly round corners and on country roads, e.g. Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery) or the firm ones (not necessarily uncomfortable and much better round the bendy bits). The F-Pace falls into the latter camp, as in fact I have alluded to in an earlier post after driving the 3 litre diesel version (and, incidentally, that same post features the wonderful Jaguar XE with the 3 litre supercharged petrol engine). And, by the way, the F-Pace is definitely more than comfortable enough.

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Cats don’t normally like water but this big one seemed to relish its wash. As a treat for good behaviour over the 190 mile trip, I then took it round the corner for a small saucer of milk just before delivering it to its proud new owners.

Any downside to the handsome, practical and quick supercharged F-Pace? Well, it is a little thirsty, with an official fuel consumption figure of 32mpg (compared to 47mpg for the 3 litre diesel). Ouch (well its “ouch” by European standards!). And, of course, official figures bear no relation to the real world. I managed 28mpg over my steady 190 mile motorway trip. That’s less than I have got out of V8 Bentley Continentals (30-33mpg) on similar journeys!

Finally, going back to last week’s post about Edinburgh and the train journey between Scotland’s capital and Newcastle, I saw an episode of Coastal Railways with Julie Walters during the week. And guess wot?! The wonderfully funny Miss Walters (comedian, British national treasure and Mrs Weasley from the Harry Potter films) did much the same thing. The same train journey and a little exploration of Edinburgh itself, including some fascinating revelations about a clock and a secret passage between Waverley train station and a hotel. Definitely worth a watch if you have access to Channel 4’s catch up service (All 4) on the interweb.

Colin

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IF IT’S FREE, GO TWICE – ROYAL AIR FORCE MUSEUM, HENDON

Actually, I had two big days out last week. In addition to delivering a Mercedes to Edinburgh (work), I took myself off to the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, in the outer reaches of north London. What a brilliant place and …. it’s all free! Well, apart from a modest car parking charge and fees for some “optional” features such a flight simulator and the chance to sit in the cockpit of a Spitfire. From the earliest planes which look like they were built by budding Blue Peter presenters out of string, cocktail sticks, brown paper and a pair of Val’s bloomers to sophisticated fast jets made from very strong stuff, there are loads of interesting aircraft on view and all brilliantly preserved. The place is huge!

There are some whopping bombers such as (if this means anything to you) a WWII Lancaster, Flying Fortress, Liberator and a Halifax that was dragged up from the depths of a lake plus a monstrous Cold War Avro Vulcan. Lots of fantastic fighters – several Spitfires, Hurricane, Messerschmitt 109, P-40 Kittyhawk (I put one of those in a sandwich once), Meteor, Lightning …… and many more. There is a  WWII RAF Coastal Command section (including a Bristol Beaufort and Beaufighter), a helicopter bit and a brilliant World War I exhibition. Phew! Biggles would have loved it. A particular point of interest for me was the Hawker Hunter fighter, the very one flown by a good friend of my father’s (it even sports his name below the cockpit). My father’s friend is the last surviving pilot who flew in the flypast for the Queen’s Coronation in 1953.

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Hungry looking Curtss Kittyhawk with supersonic English Electric Lightning in the background – proper heavy metal.
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A gaggle of Battle of Britain fighters including a biplane – a Fiat CR42 Falco. Wonder if those Fiats suffered from rust? And you can just see the mighty Lancaster bomber off to the right.

So a great, cheap day out and one kids will probably enjoy too (there were some school groups there when I visited and they all seemed genuinely interested). BUT (there is a “but”) … now may not be the best time to visit, especially if you are travelling from a distance. Next year, 2018, sees the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Royal Air Force which became an independent service during the last year of the First World War. Prior to that, those magnificent (and very brave) fighting men in their flying machines were a part of the British Army – the Royal Flying Corps. To celebrate the centenary of the world’s first independent air force, the museum is having a bit of a revamp. One of the big halls (the former Battle of Britain museum) and a small part of another hall are therefore closed. However (on the up side, there is a “however” to soften the “but”) there is still a huge amount of interesting stuff to see. So, if you can’t resist a peek now, go! It’s free! You can always pop back again next year when the revamp is complete. I knew all this before I went but was itching to pay a return visit. I have made several visits over the years, the first as a kid shortly after the museum opened in 1972. And I fully intend to go back next year as well! If all this tickles your flying fancy but north London is a bit far for you, there is another (and also very substantial) branch of the Royal Air Force Museum in Cosford in Shropshire to the north west of Birmingham. Again, admission is free. Cosford majors more on the Cold War era (but not exclusively) whereas Hendon has a large number of World War II aircraft.

Apologies for the quality of the photos (mine are not great at the best of times) but the lighting in the museum was quite low. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

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Sticks and string. Part of the First World War collection. Typical max speed of these things was 100-120 mph (160-190kph). Most modern cars are probably faster.
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The Bristol Beaufighter in the RAF Coastal command section.
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The big B-24 Liberator. Next to a sign saying the area beyond is closed for the “RAF Centenary 2018 Transformation Programme”. 

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – GRAND OLD EDINBURGH & MERC GLC

Another big day out this week (Thursday):-

Monday: Range Rover Velar D240 auto, Nottingham to Wakefield, Yorkshire.

Wednesday: Range Rover Velar D240 auto, Wakefield to Nottingham; Mercedes GLC 220d AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Leicester.

Thursday: Mercedes GLC 220d AMG Line auto, Leicester to Edinburgh.

Friday: Vauxhall Vivaro van, Cannock, Staffordshire to Harrow, London; Vauxhall Vivaro van (2013), Edgeware to Camberley, Surrey.

All the way to Edinburgh on Thursday – 300 miles through darkness, dawn, snow, hail and sun, having set out at 4.30 in the morning. Driving the Mercedes GLC back to back with the Range Rover Velar the day before was interesting and showed up how refined the Velar is. And so it should be because it’s substantially bigger and more expensive. The GLC is not a small car but jumping into it after the futuristic looking but grander Velar, it seemed much more fun-sized and positively nimble feeling. The firmer ride enhanced this impression as it was flatter in the corners compared to the slightly wobblier but cosseting Velar. The next day, the GLC grew in size as I set off for Edinburgh and the memory of the Velar faded. It became a comfortable and generally quiet cruiser (no aches or pains after about five and a half hours driving) as it battled through the elements.

OK, let’s not exaggerate. There was a mini blizzard followed by hail around Alnwick in Northumberland and it became quite murky. But it wasn’t the snow Armageddon forecast by the Daily Mail (funny that). Soon I was enjoying the wild scenery of north eastern England, the North Sea coast and, at last, Scotland. After the business part of the day (car wash, deliver car, bus into the city), I had the briefest of walks through Edinburgh – the only city I know of which has a canyon running alongside its principal street (Princes Street). Well, its a very large ditch at the very least, through which the train tracks run. But don’t let that put you off! With Edinburgh’s main Waverly station at one end of the canyon/ditch, right in the heart of the city, it’s all part of Edinburgh’s character. The place has bags of atmosphere and plenty to see and do. When I walked through it on Thursday (around lunchtime), the grand old place was lively and seemed to have a distinct confidence about it.

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The sparkling Mercedes GLC safely delivered to a very grand office in the middle of a golf course on the outskirts of Edinburgh. A quick glance at Google maps (satellite view) will show you that Scotland’s capital city is surrounded by golf courses. 

We last came to Edinburgh, as proper grockles, in 2003 for a long weekend. And you really do need a long weekend to fit everything in, including (deep breath):-

Edinburgh Castle. Everything a castle should be! Dark, forbidding and occupying a commanding position, situated on a rock overlooking the city. Still very complete. I can remember the exact date we visited Edinburgh Castle. It was 24th October 2003. How do I remember that? It was the day of Concorde’s last ever commercial flight. Three Concordes flew into Heathrow Airport from three different locations, one of which was Edinburgh Airport. From the walls of Edinburgh Castle, we saw Concorde fly over the city and say its final farewell. Makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just thinking about it. What a beautiful aircraft. A little loud maybe, but stunning.

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Edinburgh Castle

Arthur’s Seat. A very large hill barely a caber toss from the city centre. A visit to Edinburgh has to include a hike up Arthur’s Seat. Why? Because it’s there. And the views from the top are fabulous.

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So close to the city – Arthur’s Seat. Who’s Arthur? No one really knows. May be the legendary King Arthur. Or maybe not.

The Royal Mile. The historic main thoroughfare through Edinburgh’s Old Town comprising a succession of old streets, closes, nooks and crannies. Discover museums, shops, restaurants and, at festival time, loads of entertainers and buskers. The Royal Mile runs downhill from the castle to the equally historic Holyrood Palace (many things in Edinburgh are historic) and is, you will be surprised to hear, one Scots mile long. A Scots mile is the distance covered by 12,000 haggis laid end to end and is slightly longer than an English mile (12,000 Yorkshire puddings). It looks like the Royal Mile is going to survive the UK’s stay in the EU without being renamed the Royal One Point Eight Kilometres.

The Camera Obscura (literally, “the dark room”). This Victorian curiosity is actually a giant pinhole camera. You go in the turret-shaped dark room for an unusual city tour. A revolving lens at the top of the turret focuses light – and an image of city – down on to a large round white table. Your guide moves the lens around to pick out different parts of the city and, of course, it is all alive with miniature images of people, cars and buses all going about their business. On your climb up to the Camera Obscura, you pass through the World of Illusions – six floors of interactive optical exhibits to play with and learn (you’re never too young for that).

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The rather fun Camera Obscura!

Royal Yacht Britannia. Moored in the rejuvenated Leith dock area, the Royal Family’s biggest ever toy provides a fascinating tour of a real piece of recent British history. It’s opulent and homely all at the same time. Our kids (about 7 and 5 at the time) loved it too. They had their own audio guides with special kiddies’ commentary. They sought out each numbered board dotted around the boat, pressed the corresponding number on their audio gadget and listened avidly to each and every bit of commentary. At no time before or since have they ever done that at any other attraction. As adults, my wife and I had an equally enthralling commentary. Oh, how HMQ and Prince Phil must miss the old tub.

The Edinburgh Festival. If you happen to be in Edinburgh in August, lucky you! Loads of culture, opera, plays, comedy and stuff. In fact, it’s the largest arts festival in the world. My wife and I were there in about 1986 BC (Before Children) and saw two very bizarre plays in tiny venues. If you don’t want to part with any cash, there are loads of street artists who could keep you entertained all day (but I’m sure they would appreciate a few groats for their trouble).

After my all too brief visit to Scotland’s capital city, I was whisked back to Leicester by train (well, I should have been whisked but there was the inevitable delay, missed connection and more delay). However, the first leg of the journey from Edinburgh to Newcastle was a joy. The train line runs close to the coast and, compared to driving, I was better able to enjoy the scenery. As well as a lot of greenery, rolling greyery (the North Sea) and bleak whitery, I spotted several landmarks such as Berwick Upon Tweed and its bridges, Torness Nuclear Power Station, Lindisfarne (the Holy Island) and a quaint looking town lying at the mouth of a river. Thanks to the wonder that is Google maps, I was quickly able to identify this as Alnmouth. Oh, and there was loads more snow on the way home, in Northumberland, but I heard no reports of the world ending when I got home.

Colin

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – GAME OF URNS & BOWLED OVER BY JAG XF

Driving took a backseat this week, at least in my mind (my arms aren’t that long). Winter is coming. And this year that means one thing: the Ashes series Down Under. For the uninitiated, this is cricket. Australia versus England in the most historic and bitterly fought contest in sport. Why “the Ashes”? Because in 1882, those upstart colonials came to England and dared to beat the complacent imperial masters for the first time ever. This shocking turn of events prompted an English newspaper to publish a satirical obituary stating that English cricket had died and “the body will be cremated and the ashes taken to Australia”.

The Ashes is a tempestuous rivalry to match Game of Thrones, with the likes of the cool Dawid Malannister facing the fiery Mitchell of House Starc. Ice and fire. This is a war fought with willow clubs rather steel swords, where leather-bound, rock-like projectiles are hurled at the enemy’s head at 90 miles per hour. To the victor goes the Terracotta Urn rather than the Iron Throne but they are both uncomfortable to sit on. Before play started in Brisbane, Australia (frustratingly at midnight on Wednesday UK time), I was in a state of nervous tension. Should I join the ranks of the Night’s Watch and forego sleep? No, I need my beauty sleep too much (although it doesn’t work). So, I wake up each morning actually dreading looking at the score. Hopefully, England will get away with an honourable, narrow defeat over the five test match series (each match lasting five days) rather than complete humiliation. But sometimes, in the odd foolhardy moment, I dare to dream of a well earned series draw or, heaven forbid, a win. Dream on. Anyway, despite the sporting distraction, I did drive some cars this week:-

Monday: Volkswagen Up! Move Up! (60hp), Northampton to Spalding, Lincolnshire
Tuesday: BMW X4 Xdrive3.0d M Sport auto, Leicester to Coventry
Wednesday: Jaguar XF R Sport 2.0d auto (180hp), Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire to Manchester; Range Rover Evoque SE Tech TD4 auto (180hp), Manchester to Melton Mowbray.
Friday: Nissan Juke Envy 1.2 DIG-T, Leicester to Uxbridge, Middlesex; Nissan X-Trail (hire car), Uxbridge to Leicester.
At last! I got to drive a current model Jaguar XF and it was as good as I had hoped it would be. Just like a larger version of the nimble XE but more space, more refinement and more comfort. To drive, it didn’t feel like a big car and seemed just as twinkled-toed as the XE. The 180hp diesel engine is fairly low down in XF pecking order but I wouldn’t argue if someone were to give me one of these! Not least because I got 60 miles to the gallon out of it over the 120 miles between Melton Mowbray and Manchester. Plus I’m sure most people would find it perfectly quick enough and, under acceleration, I actually think it sounds pretty good for a diesel. Almost sporty. I have thought the same when driving XEs with the same motor but not the various Land Rover products that also use the same powerplant (like the Evoque I drove back to Melton Mowbray after delivering the Jag). So Jaguar must sprinkle sporty dust on the engines they use, or something like that.
However, there were a couple of niggles. Firstly, on occasions there was a lot of wind noise from the driver’s door mirror. It was an extremely windy day though, so I would like to drive other examples to see if this was a one off (the XF I drove wasn’t brand new, it was a few months old). Also, I drove the R Sport version or, if you like, the boy racer version with red leather inserts on the seats and doors. Hmm. A question of taste. Very few modern Jaguars have the full wood and leather treatment to make them feel truly special, as they did in days of yore. And yet, although smart, the interiors do look a touch dated. Still, I would happily have an XF if the bank balance permitted. For the time being I will have to make do with the Jaguar tea bags we have in the kitchen cupboard. Actually, they are Tetley (and its redbush/rooibos not tea) but Jaguar Land Rover and Tetley are all part of the same group, being owned Tata of India. So, I have racy rooibos bags.

PLANE SANDWICHES & SOME CHILDHOOD FAVOURITES

Plane sandwiches?? Let me explain. In my family, I have a reputation for being very fussy and taking far too long to make a sandwich. I call it loving care and thought in creating tempting bread-based snacks. A sandwich is not a sandwich unless the filling has a minimum of three ingredients (which, for the benefit of any American readers, is considered extravagant in the UK).  I realise now that I missed my calling in life. I should have been the catering manager on the set of Scooby Doo. I would have been in my element constructing those three foot high sandwiches which our four legged hero would wolf down in one gulp while being chased through the abandoned fair ground/factory/creepy house by the former janitor/boss/security guard sporting a rubber monster mask or wrapped head to toe in bandages.

A few years ago I went through a phase of directing all that love and care to the production of epic sandwiches for my wife to take to work. However, she has far simpler and less sophisticated needs when it comes to food (she hails from Birmingham*; I don’t know why I felt compelled to mention that). The last straw came with some beautifully crafted roast chicken, mayonnaise, sweet chilli sauce and salad wraps. Being of the “eat to live” rather than “live to eat” persuasion, she complained: “There’s too many ingredients – can’t I just have a plain sandwich?”. Now, by pure coincidence, I had been flicking through a large reference book about a week or so before when some long-forgotten 2D cardboard cut-outs of World War II aeroplanes fell from the pages. They would have formed a mobile to hang from the ceiling of a young aviation enthusiast’s ceiling had such a person lived in our house. I’m an old aviation enthusiast and probably a bit beyond that sort of thing (and in any event, my wife wouldn’t let me hang it in our bedroom).

The germ of an idea grew in my mind. If my dearly beloved wants plain sandwiches, plane sandwiches she shall have (see what I did there?). I have to say, they were much quicker to make. Two slices of bread, a scraping of low fat spread and a sprinkling of P-51 Mustang and P-38 Lightning, all topped off with a P-40 Kittyhawk (still three ingredients, you’ll notice). The aviation savvy amongst you will notice I went for the “lite” option with fighters rather than bombers.

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I still have the ingredients for a high cholesterol version of the plane sandwich – real butter and full-fat bombers.

“What sort of sandwiches have I got today?”, my wife enquired. “Plane sandwiches, just liked you asked for, dear.” Fortunately, she didn’t notice the difference in spelling when I said “plane”. She was blissfully unaware until she sat down in the staff room at lunchtime (she’s a teacher, by the way) to tuck into her simple fare. Oh, how her colleagues laughed when a wingtip peeping out of her sandwich piqued my wife’s curiosity and she peeled back the top slice of bread to reveal ….. a plane filling. Fortunately, she saw the funny side so I only had to spend one night on the sofa (actually, that’s the only part of this tale that is not true).

Now everyone has their favourites when it comes to sandwiches and those favourites often hark back to childhood. So, I will leave you with some of my favourites from my earliest days of sandwich making (I was still relatively sparing with the number of ingredients back then). Three of them are classics, one of them is my very own invention. Try one next time you are feeling peckish and the Scooby snack jar is empty.

SWEET AND SOUR SANDWICH

My gift to the culinary world, although apart from immediate family, you, dear reader, are the first to know about it. Marmalade provides the sweet and Marmite provides the sour. Spread one of these delights on each slice of bread and slap them together. Believe me, it works (well, it works for me). I have no idea if Marmite is sold outside the UK (Australia has a similar thing, Vegemite). Marmite is a thick black, salty tasting, savoury spread made from yeast extract – a by-product of the beer brewing industry. I’m not selling it that well, am I? But in the UK, people love Marmite. Or they hate it. There’s no middle ground.

CHEESE AND JAM (JELLY)

Some people nod knowingly when you mention this classic, others look at you as if you are a swivel-eyed loony. Why? It’s not that far removed from fruit and cream. Cheddar, a proper Red Leicester (not orange rubber) or a creamy white cheese like Wensleydale or Cheshire together with marmalade or apricot jam are my favourite combinations.

FISH FINGER SANDWICH

The ultimate kiddies’ sandwich. At least in the 1970s it was. And for me it had to have a good layer of Heinz Salad Cream on, rather than the ubiquitous tomato ketchup. Again, I think salad cream may be a British peculiarity even though Heinz is a US company. It’s a sort of a poor man’s mayonnaise with a more vinaigry taste and that’s what people had on their salad (and fish finger sandwiches) back in the seventies. Now we are all more sophisticated, salad cream sales have plummeted and mayonnaise rules. Except in Birmingham.

As an aside, someone I know used to love fish fingers when he was little but hated fish. When he found out fish fingers were made from fish(?!!?), he stopped eating them. (I concealed your identity there, little brother. Oops.)

THE CHRISTMAS SANDWICH

The ultimate sandwich and part of my Christmas Day ritual since I can’t remember. As a kid, I may even have looked forward to the Christmas Sandwich as much as the traditional Christmas turkey dinner (which I love). This was because, when it came to making the Christmas Sandwich, there was no grown up around trying to force feed me Brussel sprouts. I would sneak into the kitchen some time after the end of The Great Escape and before waking up the adults in time for the Morecambe and Wise Christmas show. There I would cram a two slices of bread full of turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Fabulous. Only 32 sleeps to the next one!

By the way, does anyone remember a BBC sitcom called Colin’s Sandwich(!!)? My reputation obviously came to the attention of Auntie Beeb. It was broadcast between 1988 and 1990 and starred the late Mel Smith. Probably not the BBC’s finest hour.

Colin

* That’s “BirmingGum“, England not “Birming [pause] Ham” in the sweet home state of Alabama, USA.

WEEKLY CAR DIARY – BARGAIN INSIGNIA & KNOLE PARK, SEVENOAKS

Bit late with this week’s diary because we have been to visit family in Sevenoaks in Kent, a county in the south east of England known as the Garden of England. Fittingly, we had far too much good food. Fantastic. An early morning Sunday walk through Knole Park made us feel good about ourselves – and also made room for a delicious lunch. Knole Park surrounds Knole House, one of the largest stately homes in England. The building of this impressive pile was kicked off by an Archbishop of Canterbury in 1456 and bits and pieces were added over the centuries. Knole is Kent’s last remaining medieval deer park, so if you want to know what medieval deer look like, see the pics. The park was beautiful in the watery winter sun and the deer were out in force. The whole place is owned by the National Trust but you can enjoy the parkland for free. We didn’t have time to go around the house but I am told that you can only access a limited part of it. That includes the impressive Gatehouse Tower from which you get spectacular panoramic views. We actually missed a trick there because climbing the steep spiral staircase to the top of the tower would have made even more room for dessert at lunchtime (although to be fair, the three helpings I had were probably sufficient).

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Knole House with the Gateway Tower in the centre. And below green parkland, blue sky, rusty trees and lots of deer.

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Car-wise, this past week was not quite as interesting as the previous week but that’s not to say the Audi A3 and the Mercedes C-class are not fine cars. In fact, I particularly liked the Audi, as good to drive as the Audi A1 but a bit bigger:-

Monday: Audi A3 S Line 1.5TFSI (150hp), Leicester to Kibworth Harcourt, Leicestershire

Wednesday: Seat Ibiza 1.4 (2006) chase car, Leicester to Bicester, Oxfordshire

Friday: Mercedes C220D AMG Line auto, Nottingham to Bournemouth

I’m actually going to jump back to the previous week because I am keen to tell you about a new budget car brand I have discovered: Vauxhall (or Opel if you live outside the UK). I hadn’t realised what good value they are. I knew the latest Astra was a good car but en route from Southampton to Old Sarum, I discovered that the new Insignia Grand Sport is a decent car too. Wider and lower than the old Insignia and very handsome with it, the new model (sporting a grand title to distinguish it from its predecessor) is also lighter and cheaper. Solid feeling, quiet and relaxing to drive with a modern interior that could hold its own against most of the obvious opposition, it’s a traditional, full-size family car (which may be a drawback because everyone wants SUVs or smaller cars with premium badges these days).

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The handsome Insignia Grand Sport safely delivered to Old Sarum, virtually in the shadow of the Iron Age hill fort described in my last post.

But if you have a family to transport and don’t care two hoots about fashion accessories or badges, an Insignia Grand Sport could be yours for just £17635. That’ll come with plenty of kit and what looks like a perky a 1.5 turbo petrol engine with 140 horses. In the UK, you’ll pay £1.8k more for a Mondeo and £4k more for the Optima from budget stalwart, Kia! And bizarrely, you will pay £2.5k more for the cheapest and smaller Ford Focus (yes, really – the cheapest Focus in the UK is £20135 which is more than the entry-level version of its big brother, the Mondeo).

I delivered a 110hp 1.6 diesel Insignia Grand Sport to Old Sarum and it did the job just fine. Funnily enough, at 70mph on the motorway it was just as fast as a Lamborghini Aventador doing 70mph. So, if you want a version of the new Insignia that does 70 miles to the gallon, you will have to part with £19,075 but that’s still less than the cheapest Mondeo which is petrol powered (one of those little one litre wonders but may be a bit out of its depth in a Mondeo??).

And finally, to confirm Vauxhall’s budget credentials, there’s a huge £3.6k difference between the cheapest Vauxhall/Opel Astra and the basement Ford Focus in the UK.

Colin

HISTORIC OLD SARUM – IN SEARCH OF DAVE THOMPSON

Old Sarum. This little spot in Wiltshire sounds as if it should be inhabited by witches or druids. Or both. At the very least, there is a mystical ring to the name. Indeed, the whole county of Wiltshire has an ancient and mystical feel to it. This area was at the heart of the old Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex whose most famous king, Alfred the Great, was knocked out in the first round of the Great Anglo-Saxon Bake Off when he famously burnt some cakes (the judges were a bit harsh, after all he was rather preoccupied by the problem of how to chase the Vikings from his homeland). Wiltshire’s chalk downland and hills have been home to settlements throughout history and pre-history: Mesolithic, Neolithic, Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age, this Age and that Age right up to the Silicon Age. And the famous stone circles at Stonehenge and Avebury are just up the road from Old Sarum. If you like your henges, Wiltshire is the place to go.

And Old Sarum itself has a very important ancient site – an Iron Age hill fort with a history extending far beyond that era (both before and after). Last Wednesday, a colleague and I had an epic tour of southern England. One hundred and fifty miles from Leicester to Southampton docks in a hire car.  There, I collected a new car to deliver just 24 miles down the road to Old Sarum, more or less in the shadow of the hill fort and about two miles outside the famous cathedral city of Salisbury. It happened to be lunchtime when we delivered the car and we needed a break, so we thought it would be rude not to go and have a quick look at the old fort. I also had an ulterior motive for going but more of that later.

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Old Sarum. The Norman castle taking centre stage in this pic with the remains of the cathedral top left. If I had jumped a bit higher I would have got more of the Iron Age defences in (there’s a glimpse top left and top right). OK, you guessed, this is a library photo not one of mine.

Old Sarum fort started life as a settlement possibly as long ago as 3000BC, with the Iron Age fort being created around 400BC. Later, the Rotten Romans occupied the site, as did the Smashing Saxons and then the Stormin’ Normans (if you know your Horrible Histories, all these terrible tribes will be familiar to you). The reason for choosing this site as a defensive position is obvious – you can see for miles across the countryside in every direction, so you would have no problem spotting marauding Scandinavians coming your way. And that’s what happened in 1003. The Saxons spotted Scandi king, Sweyn Forkbeard and his advancing merry men and …. ran away, thus allowing old Prongface to sack and burn Old Sarum. Brilliant. Why did they bother building a fort? And no, I didn’t make up “Sweyn Forkbeard”; you may have heard of his dad, Harald Bluetooth who later lent his name to a useful bit of modern technology (wonder if his estate gets any royalties?).

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Inside the Norman castle. Fabulous blue sky when we visited.

In terms of property development at Old Sarum, the Stormin’ Normans were the real masters. Just four years after stepping off the ferry at Hastings, poking King Harold in the eye and not bothering to go home (1066 and all that), William the Conqueror’s men built a motte and bailey castle surrounded by a stone curtain wall and later (when the skip finally arrived), a cathedral and a royal palace. Funds seem to have run out before the leisure centre and out of town shopping mall could be built. Nevertheless, Old Sarum flourished for a couple of centuries with the royal palace being used by Norman and Plantagenet monarchs. Henry II even imprisoned his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine, at Old Sarum (“It’s Ellie’s incessant nagging. Every time I go for a royal wee and leave the garderobe seat up. God, she goes on and on and on. I can’t stand it any longer. Anyway, I’ve shut her up for a while. Literally.”)

This heyday ended with a spat between the county sheriff and the local bishop in the early 13th century. Toys were thrown out of prams, footballs were taken home and, in a strop, the bish decided to build a new cathedral on the nearby plain. A town grew up around the new cathedral and eventually became the city of Salisbury. And get this – the new town received its city charter in 1227 under the name New Sarum (imaginative) and New Sarum remained Salisbury’s official name until …. 2009. Not a lot of people know that (I didn’t until I read the Wikipedia entry for Salisbury so it’s bound to be true).

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All that is left of the cathedral. Would have made a good cricket pitch.

So what’s left of Old Sarum today? The concentric defensive rings and ditches around the hill are still there but there is not much left of the buildings. Much of the stone was removed to build New Sarum and its new cathedral, as Old Sarum was largely abandoned. Taking a break from beheading wives, Henry VIII eventually sold the long-neglected castle in 1514. Foolishly, he didn’t use Purplebricks and became a cantankerous old git in later life as he suffered from severe commisery through not using the right estate agent to handle the sale. As you can see from the photos, there are some of the Norman walls left and ground level remains of the old cathedral which was set between the Norman castle and the outer Iron Age defences. My colleague and I had the most fleeting of visits, literally a few minutes having a quick nose at what is left of the Norman castle and spending some moments drinking in the 360° panorama. It was a beautifully crisp, clear day but as cold as a witch’s heart in the biting wind. It was a very peaceful place and, despite the cold, it would have been great to wander around for longer and drink in the history. There were virtually no other visitors and certainly no druids to be seen. It was their lunchtime too so they had popped off to buy a sausage roll at the local Greggs.

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Well, well, well. Old Sarum again.

There was one little bonus to take away from our flying visit and here we get back to my ulterior motive. Old Sarum is run by English Heritage, an organisation which manages hundreds of historic sites throughout the country. Gift shops at English Heritage properties often sell merchandise featuring an illustration of the property by artist, Dave Thompson. His work is a modern take on the classic travel poster art of the 1950’s and my daughter collects postcards of his illustrations. Not just English Heritage properties but pictures of famous landmarks from all over the country. So, I was able to gain a few brownie points by purchasing a postcard of Old Sarum as portrayed by said Mr Thompson. It only cost 60 pence but I’ll milk it for all its worth……

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The Dave Thompson postcard of Old Sarum. Only cost 60p but should be able to get my daughter to make me several cups of tea next time she’s home from university.
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My wife and I also like Dave Thompson’s work. Landmarks in the form of buildings are more usual subjects for his work, as seen in these three examples of poster size prints. Three places we have been and really liked. Sorry about the light on the Bamburgh Castle print. My brilliant photography skills again. Ha ha.

Colin